05/15/2006 11:00PM

Barbaro finds a way, dream trip or not

Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Bernardini, winning the Withers, is by BC Classic winner A.P. Indy.

LAS VEGAS - Barbaro was nothing short of sensational in winning the Kentucky Derby, and although his main competition that day - Brother Derek and Sweetnorthernsaint - had rough trips that compromised their chances, I expect Barbaro to win the Preakness.

Many skeptics point to the dream trip Barbaro received in the Derby, one that he will not have in the Preakness, which surely sets up as a different race. They forget, however, that Barbaro faced adversity before and passed with flying colors. He makes his own racing luck.

In the Florida Derby, Barbaro drew post 10 in a nine-furlong race that has a short run to the first turn. He had to use his tactical speed not only for position, but to stay close to Sharp Humor, who was coming off three straight victories, including the Swale Stakes. A game Distorted Humor colt, Sharp Humor was the controlling speed in the Florida Derby, setting fractions of 22.03 seconds and 44.58 en route to a seven-furlong time of 1:22.14, and led by a head at the top of the stretch before falling a half-length short at the wire to Barbaro.

Barbaro's balanced pedigree of stamina (Dynaformer) over speed (Carson City) gives him a decided edge in any race, where he can either take control of a slow pace or sit behind fast fractions. In the Preakness, Barbaro should once again sit a stalking trip behind the speed, which should include Like Now, Sweetnorthernsaint, and Brother Derek.

I found Brother Derek's courageous effort in the Derby even more impressive than his string of easy victories in California. He had to overcome a ridiculously wide trip breaking from post 18 and finished in a dead heat for fourth. A clean trip in the Preakness makes Brother Derek a formidable foe.

Like Now wired the field in the Gotham Stakes - which included Sweetnorthernsaint and Keyed Entry - and was second in the Lexington Stakes, then bypassed the Derby. He gets his speed naturally from his late sire, Jules, arguably Forty Niner's best-bred son. Jules's female family produced Northern Dancer, Danehill, Machiavellian, and Halo. Jules's best offspring was multiple stakes winner Peace Rules, who finished a game third in the 2003 Kentucky Derby, behind Funny Cide and Empire Maker. Like Now is out of a mare by 1992 Preakness winner Pine Bluff, and his second dam is by 1979 Belmont Stakes winner Coastal. Going way back in his pedigree, his seventh dam, Dustsweep, is a half-sister to 1941 Triple Crown winner Whirlaway. Like Now is unlikely to win the Preakness, but may hang on longer than most people think.

Bernardini has right pedigree

The big three in the Preakness - Barbaro, Brother Derek, and Sweetnorthernsaint - meet a new opponent in Bernardini, who will take support in the Preakness. Lightly raced but obviously blessed with talent, Bernardini was an impressive winner of the Withers Stakes in just his third start, and although he lacks the foundation of the others, he is fresh and is the unknown factor in this race.

His pedigree suggests big things. By A.P. Indy, Bernardini should not have any problems with distance. His dam, Cara Rafaela, who is by Quiet American (sire of 1998 Derby and Preakness winner Real Quiet), won the Hollywood Starlet and Alcibiades Stakes, finished second to My Flag in the 1995 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, and was third in the Kentucky Oaks. In addition, Bernardini's second dam is by 1979 Derby and Preakness winner Spectacular Bid, and his third dam is by 1964 Derby and Preakness winner Northern Dancer. This is a serious pedigree for the classics.

Peter Pan-Belmont connection

Ever since Stage Door Johnny used a little-known allowance race called the Peter Pan Purse in 1968 as a springboard to his thrilling Belmont Stakes victory, it has become a major prep for the Belmont.

Peter Pan winners include Coastal, who won the Peter Pan and then upset Spectacular Bid in the 1979 Belmont, and Danzig Connection, who in 1986 became Woody Stephens's fifth consecutive Belmont winner. After being scratched on the morning of the Kentucky Derby, A.P. Indy's win in the 1992 Peter Pan catapulted him to a Belmont victory.

Slew o' Gold won the 1983 Peter Pan and was second to Caveat in the Belmont, and Colonial Affair, second in the 1993 Peter Pan, won the Belmont. Lemon Drop Kid finished third in the 1999 Peter Pan and won the Belmont. Unshaded, second in the 2000 Peter Pan, and Sunday Break, winner of the 2002 Peter Pan, both finished third in the Belmont.

Strong Contender (Maria's Mon) and Sunriver (Saint Ballado) are the marquee names in this year's Peter Pan who were excluded from the Derby because of insufficient graded earnings.

A lightly raced horse, Strong Contender was on the fast track to the Derby but needed to be second in the Blue Grass Stakes to get in. He finished third in that bizarre race and is a great fit for the Peter Pan.

Sunriver, a full brother to champion Ashado, finished third in the Florida Derby despite having a wide trip. Sunriver is a rare double RF (Rasmussen Factor), since he is inbred to two influential broodmares within five generations. Sunriver is inbred 4x5 to Almahmoud (through her daughters Cosmah and Natalma) and 3x5 to Cosmah (through her sons Halo and Maribeau). Female family inbreeding is usually a barometer of high class.

Good performances by Strong Contender and Sunriver will surely send them to the Belmont.